7 Validated Habits for Stunningly Successful Demos - Great Demo!

Seven Validated Habits for Stunningly Successful Demos

Here are seven validated demo success factors that lead to closed business. These approaches map delightfully to Great Demo! and Doing Discovery principles while differing markedly from traditional demos. How do your demos compare?

Seven Validated Success Factors

The fine folks at Gong.io analyzed thousands millions of demos to uncover these seven success factors:

  1. Pre-Demo Discovery
  2. A Crisp Review of the Prospect’s Situation
  3. Do the Last Thing First
  4. Inverted Pyramid
  5. Peel Back the Layers
  6. Peel Back the Layers (reprised)
  7. Transition Vision


In their original study, the Gong team analyzed 67,149 demo recordings and matched the results to closed or progressed business. More recent studies now include data from over 3 million demos across a broad range of B-to-B software companies’ offerings and verticals – that’s a LOT of data!

Their analysis identified four “acts” in the most successful demos:

Act 1: The Contextual Overview

Act 2: The Upside Down Demo

Act 3: Accelerated Interaction

Act 4: The Wrap Up

Let’s examine each in order, along with the seven key success factors.

Doing Discovery

Gong found that the most successful demos focused on what was learned in substantive discovery conversations. These were not “on-the-fly” disco-demos, but effective pre-demo interactions:

Key Success Factor Number 1: Do Discovery

Presales and sales teams need to actually execute discovery (not just qualification or “BANT”) to uncover the situational information needed to deliver successful demos. This is absolutely key!

The Gong studies also provide a simple guideline: Map your demo to what you learned in discovery. Sounds obvious, but you need to actually do sufficient discovery in order to accomplish this!

Not surprisingly, the studies also suggest that demonstrating capabilities that were not discussed in discovery puts you at risk of “buying it back” and making your demo look too complicated.

Sadly, many sales and presales folks believe they do a good job doing discovery but have actually only scratched the surface. For example, for many vendors discovery is limited to confirming “pain” and a brief exploration of the prospect’s tech stack and required integrations. They are operating at Level 1 of the 7 possible levels of performing discovery.

This is an important opportunity for improvement and represents a fabulous way to differentiate from your competition! The wonderful book Doing Discovery (I know the author) provides a framework and a structured approach to doing discovery, enabling you to differentiate positively right from your first interactions.

In Doing Discovery and Great Demo! Workshops, we teach what specific discovery information is needed to enable a vendor to prepare and deliver a highly successful demo and how to execute discovery to achieve this.

Gong Act 1: The Contextual Overview

Traditional, unsuccessful demos consume the first Act with corporate overviews, logo slides, and product and architecture presentations. Rarely do prospects consider this information to be compelling: It’s like sitting through 10-20 minutes of commercials before getting to see your movie or program!

Conversely, the Gong studies showed that the most successful demos began with a “contextual overview” that ran no longer than two minutes. No corporate overview. No product intro. No architecture slides. And especially no slides of “our customers’ logos”. Just a crisp review of the prospect’s specific situation that you collected in discovery.

Key Success Factor Number 2: Situation Slides

The studies confirm what we logically already realize (but often fail to put into practice), that the demo meeting should be all about the prospect. Traditional demo meetings that start with corporate overview presentations are all about the vendor. That’s the problem!

The most successful demos start with a crisp review of the prospect’s situation: They are prospect focused. That’s a critical success factor and another major opportunity to differentiate.

Great Demo! methodology uses Situation Slides to begin the demo, aligning delightfully with the findings. Situation Slides concisely summarize the vendor’s understanding of the prospect’s situation: Their overarching goals, their current situation, pain and problems, the specific capabilities the prospect is looking for, the value desired, and the required timeline.

And the typical time to present a Situation Slide is – you guessed it – about 2 minutes. Perfect!

Gong Act 2: The Upside Down Demo

Traditional demos typically follow a seemingly logical linear pathway, from set-up, through a series of workflows, to finally getting to the end results and reporting. The data shows that this is an unsuccessful approach. Why?

  • High-ranking people often leave the meeting before the vendor gets to the “best stuff”;
  • Those who remain find their brains have turned to mush after the 20, 30, 40 (or more!) minutes of clicking and talking;
  • Vendors often run out of time before they get to the “best stuff”…!

The study showed conclusively that successful demos showed the most valuable deliverables from the software right after the contextual overview: Right up front!

Consider: When you want a taco, do you want to watch how to chop the onions and peppers to prepare the salsa (cilantro is optional), dice, season, and fry the filling, prepare, roll (or pat) out and cook a tortilla or two, then combine everything – or would you prefer having that taco ready to eat? (Hint: Choose “ready to eat”.)

Key Success Factor Number 3: “Do The Last Thing First” 

The results clearly show that beginning Act 2 with the most valuable part of your offering yields the highest demo success rates. As the Gong folks said, “They start with the conclusion…”:

Note the blue highlights on the Gong slide: I didn’t even know this study was underway until it was published…!  In Great Demo! we teach how to “Do the Last Thing First” – a critical success factor specifically validated in the studies.

Key Success Factor Number 4: Inverted Pyramid

But wait, there’s more…! Gong observed:

The findings showed that traditional demos suffered when they followed stepwise workflows and failed to incorporate this key success factor. Furthermore, the study noted that demos that mapped the order of presentation to the prospect’s perceived importance of capabilities were the most successful:

  • Most important topic first
  • Next most important
  • Less important
  • Least important

This is not rocket science! Following this principle yields the best results.

An additional bonus of this technique is that you only risk sacrificing the least important topics if you run out of time. How do you determine which topics are most important? Do discovery and ask!

This success factor maps directly to Doing Discovery and Great Demo! methodologies, and specifically to the use of the Inverted Pyramid approach for demos (borrowed from news services and journalism). This technique is a core Great Demo! concept and teams learn how to put it into practice in our Workshops.

Gong Act 3: Accelerated Interaction

In spite of vendors starting their demos with, “Please ask questions along the way – we want to make this interactive…” most demonstrators talk and click for 6, 8, or 10 minutes (or longer!) before checking-in and asking the inevitable “Any questions so far?”

Sadly, “Nope, we’re good…” is the response often heard from prospects or the chirp! chirp! chirp! of crickets in an empty room.

This is not a good sign! Real interactivity is key. Gong found the intriguing following results:

“We didn’t find a single demo that lead to a closed deal in the analysis that involved more than 76 seconds of uninterrupted pitching.”

An average of 76 seconds. One and a quarter minutes. Wow. That’s about the time needed to microwave a small snack. This should cause some vendors serious concern…!

Key Success Factor Number 5: Peeling Back the Layers – Make Your Demo a Conversation

The most successful demos encourage a two-way, bi-directional conversation between you and your prospect. Prospects are actively participating in the demo, asking questions and offering comments.

Unwittingly, traditional demos “pre-answer” most of the questions that audiences might ask, eliminating the possibility of a conversation. This is sometimes referred to as “premature elaboration”!

The Gong results show that vendors should have answers to prospect questions ready – but hold them “behind your back” in a virtual sense. Let your prospects ask the questions: This is what enables the conversation to take place. If you’ve been presenting for 6 or 8 minutes or longer, you’ve gone too long without an interaction!

Pro Tip: Your demo is going perfectly when your prospect is asking the questions you expect them to ask! A terrific way to precipitate questions is to summarize: “What you just saw was how easy it is to … Thoughts? Comments? Questions at this point?”

In Great Demo! Workshops we teach how to encourage a conversation to take place, yielding the frequent “speaker switches” that Gong’s studies show result in more successful demos. We call it “Peeling Back the Layers” in accord with each individual prospect’s depth and level of interest.

Key Success Factor Number 6: Peeling Back the Layers

The Gong studies found that the most successful presenters enjoyed receiving 28% more questions from their prospects than their less prosperous peers:

In my personal experience, 28% more questions is low: It’s just the starting point!

But how do you stimulate prospect queries? By not over-answering! Provide just enough information to address the question – and leave room for follow-up!

Consider: Most executives only want the 30,000-foot (9,114-meter) view; middle managers typically want to go a bit deeper; staffers want the workflow details; and system administrators desire a different set of specifics.

Gong found that:

(Hey look – they referenced Great Demo! again…!)

Peel Back the Layers by exploring as deeply as the individual prospect players have interest.

In Great Demo! training, participants practice this critical skill in coached role-play exercises. We help them learn how to break up their traditional monolithic talk tracks into bite-size components (peeling back layers of the onion, to continue the analogy…).

Great Demo! Workshop participants learn exactly how deep to go to satisfy the various members of the prospect team and to “stop selling when the prospect is ready to buy”.

After all, what happens if you peel an onion too far? You cry…!

Gong Act 4: The Wrap Up

Gong identifies the final part of the demo as the Wrap Up and comments that this is the most appropriate time for pricing and next steps discussions. Makes sense:

The concept of “next steps” is broad and is an excellent opportunity to differentiate. In traditional demos, vendors focus on “next steps” that proceed solely to the sale. This is adequate behavior, but not exceptional.

Key Success Factor Number 7: Transition Vision

Truly great sales teams interpret part of “next steps” to include a discussion of how the prospect will move from their current painful state through go-live and deployment, all the way to the point where the (now) customer begins to get tangible value from the offering. These vendors discuss Value Realization Events with their prospects and reach agreement on specific ones.

This establishes a “Transition Vision” in the prospect’s mind that includes small successes and victories on the road to full ROI attainment. Vendors that include this discussion in the Wrap Up are in a competitively advantageous position vs traditional vendors.

We teach the Transition Vision process in Great Demo! Workshops and identify two key entities:

  1. A Critical Date that drives the prospect’s go-live date, along with its driving force;
  2. One or more Value Realization Events that define an early win or small ROI, post go-live.

This demonstrates to your prospect that you are not just interested in getting the order, but that you have a genuine and tangible interest in your prospect’s success.

Four “Acts” and Seven Validated Key Success Factors

The Gong studies show conclusively that these seven Great Demo! success factors move the sales and buying processes forward most effectively:

  1. Pre-Demo Discovery
  2. A crisp review of the Customer’s Situation
  3. Do the Last Thing First
  4. Inverted Pyramid
  5. Peel Back the Layers
  6. Peel Back the Layers (reprised)
  7. Transition Vision

If you ignore these findings, you are likely at a disadvantage compared to vendors that adopt and apply these practices. Perhaps it is time to embrace change…!


Copyright © 2017-2023 The Second Derivative – All Rights Reserved other than the Gong slides – many thanks to Gong for these studies! (The study text has been edited since originally published and the excerpts above are used with permission.)

1 thought on “Seven Validated Habits for Stunningly Successful Demos”

  1. Great guidance Peter, thanks!

    I have trouble with this Gong finding though, “We didn’t find a single demo that lead to a closed deal in the analysis that involved more than 76 seconds of uninterrupted pitching.”

    My experience is that when sellers nail their demo talk track, buyers lean in with interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm and they DON”T interrupt with questions. They are in rapture. Sellers are speaking their language. There is no need to interrupt because the seller nailed their demonstration.

    Buyers attend demonstrations because they want to know:
    – How the software solves their business challenge
    – Why it is a better option than the status quo or competition
    – Why it’s worth it
    – How implementation is feasible

    When sellers demo to answer these questions, buyers don’t need to interrupt, other than to express their enthusiasm and do a Snoopy dance.

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